The Job Hunting Podcast

60. Career change: Switching sectors, industries, and countries - Karen James shares her story and tips.

December 14, 2020

Karen James is the CEO of Business for Development and one of Australia's most well-loved businesswomen. Her vast network and her support of women in the corporate and SME sectors has been a hallmark of her relentless work advocating for women during her time working as a senior executive in the Australian banking sector and her ongoing engagement with Business Chicks, a professional association for women.

Karen has an amazing professional story to tell. Her career took many turns over the years, and she has embraced change, risk, and novelty along the way. Listen as she describes her career transitions, and give tips and advice to those who are willing to embrace career change as well.


About our guest, Karen James: 

With a background in Systems Thinking and Engineering, Karen James (KJ) has a unique talent for unpacking complex issues with companies to determine strategic opportunities. Her work with clients has enabled them to define and bring to life their purpose, vision, and strategy, with a strong focus on execution. KJ’s strengths lie in facilitating dialogue with various stakeholders and broker partnerships between organizations to achieve shared value.

KJ started her career in providing technical solutions for the European and Asia Pacific markets. Over time this led her to work for Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), taking on responsibility for Corporate Financial Services’ strategy and operations. Given her personal commitment to changing the way businesses tackle sustainability, KJ founded CBA’s Women in Focus community, which supports women in developing their businesses, providing connections and access to the latest tools, practical guidance, and insights to guide them on their business journey.

She also worked with the bank to develop and execute strategies for Community Business Finance. She led the Vision & Leadership Program at CBA, which resulted in analyzing The Hunger Project’s strategies at tackling complex issues with McKinsey and incorporated those learnings into the bank's own strategic approaches.

In 2014 Wiley International published KJ’s book On Purpose – a business book for people who want to steer their work back on course, with purpose leading the way – and started a consulting business. Key projects include building a new FinTech business in Ireland; developing an Indigenous language revival platform for the Federal Government; and working as an advisor to the CEO of a finance company, working to change the culture.

KJ achieved her Masters in Environmental Engineering at the University of Sydney and earned her Bachelor of Science from the University of Hartford, where she studied Electrical Engineering.



  • 05:29 – How to lead a team during a pandemic
  • 09:51 – Karen’s career journey
  • 17:47 – Thanking the people who helped us in our career
  • 20:21 – How Karen and Renata met
  • 23:23 – Karen’s key strengths that helped her career transitions
  • 26:09 – Poor house concept
  • 28:41 – Living life on purpose
  • 31:03 – Photos in Papua New Guinea
  • 32:08 – What Karen has learned from her career transitions
  • 36:33 – Interview process for not-for-profits
  • 42:41 – Importance of your network
  • 44:59 – Advice for introverts
  • 49:06 – Advice for people in between jobs
  • 54:42 – A bit about the NGO Business for Development


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About your host:

Hello, I'm Renata Bernarde, the Host of The Job Hunting Podcast. I'm also an executive coach, job hunting expert, and career strategist. I teach corporate, non-profit, and public professionals the steps and frameworks to help them find great jobs, change, and advance their careers with confidence and less stress. 


Host: Renata Bernarde

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The Job Hunting Podcast is a podcast by Pantala Pty Ltd.

Pantala acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the Land we have recorded this podcast on, the Bunurong people. We pay our respects to their Elder's past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

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